Fenced security zones will go up in Philly ahead of pope
The U.S. Secret Service will restrict public access to a heavily traveled section of downtown Philadelphia for more than 30 hours before Pope Francis lands in the city next month -- time officials said the agency needs to build security fencing and set up metal detectors.
The first of two downtown security zones will go into effect around the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 10 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24, with limited access for pedestrians the following morning, Mayor Michael Nutter said. Another security zone will go into effect around Independence Mall at 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25.
Both zones will open at 6 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 26, about 3 hours before Francis is scheduled to land at Philadelphia International Airport. Each zone will have a secondary perimeter extending a few blocks out in all directions where screening is not required but vehicles, including those parked on the street, are still banned.
David Beach, special agent in charge of the Secret Service's Philadelphia office, said agents are contacting people who live within the security zones, but would not say whether residents would be asked to leave while fencing is built.
Nutter encouraged people living within the security zones to plan ahead by shopping for groceries and filling prescriptions before the fencing starts to go up.
The announcement of the security perimeters Thursday cleared up weeks of rumors and misinformation that had turned Philadelphia into the City of Brotherly Angst. Nutter encouraged residents to embrace Francis' visit, 45 days away.
"Hey, Philadelphia: As the saying goes, of all the cities, in all the countries around the world, the Vatican chose Philadelphia," Nutter said. "We should really take it as a badge of honor and civic pride."
The World Meeting of Families, the triennial conference that is attracting Francis to Philadelphia, has promised to publish an online guide to the visit for residents.
"Those individuals will have the information they need to have to go about their lives," Nutter said.
The security perimeters will envelop the sites of Francis' biggest events in Philadelphia, the last leg of a tour that also has stops in Havana, Cuba; Washington, D.C., and New York City.
Francis is scheduled to attend a concert and celebrate Mass before an expected crowd of more than 1 million on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and deliver a speech on immigration to a crowd of 50,000 at Independence Mall.
The parkway security restrictions are likely to complicate the morning commute the day before Francis arrives, cutting off access to a scenic but critical artery running from city hall to the Philadelphia Art Museum steps made famous by "Rocky."
City schools will be closed Sept. 23-25 and may also close Sept. 28, the day after Francis leaves. Courts will close Sept. 23-28. Some city offices will also close.
Last week, the city announced 25 miles of highway would be closed beginning at 10 p.m., Friday, Sept. 25. A major bridge connecting downtown to New Jersey will also close and the city is restricting traffic into a 3-square-mile downtown zone.
Cars can still drive within the zone, which Nutter dubbed the "traffic box," as long as they do not leave after the restrictions take effect. He said Thursday taxis will be permitted to exit and re-enter the traffic zone until 2 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 26.
Some overnight deliveries may be permitted to ensure restaurants and other businesses receive fresh goods, Nutter said. The city will post an online guide for them next week.
Anuj Gupta, general manager of the city's popular Reading Terminal Market, plans to be open for business. The downtown bazaar is looking into adding storage capacity for the weekend, but is still looking to officials for information on whether workers can get through blockades and when traffic restrictions will be lifted.
"We have close to 80 merchants, all with their respective work forces, along with the employees of the terminal themselves," Gupta said. "Just to get that ship sailing in a uniform direction is no easy task. The more lead time we can get, the better. There's no question about it."
Many visitors will be required to walk several miles, Nutter said. Details on possible accommodations for the elderly and infirmed are still being worked out, Nutter said, telling families not to send their "85-year-old grandma who's in a wheelchair" to the event by themselves.